The 2015 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD finds itself in perhaps the toughest segment in the auto industry in which to be the best. It is almost there.
Drive the 2015 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD and it will bring a smile to your face. Toyota’s compact crossover feels anything but compact inside. Room for the driver is exceptional, and the back seats have more legroom than many mid-sized sedans. Even the cargo area is generous. The RAV4 is one of those odd vehicles that seems to be bigger inside than it is outside. One of Toyota’s neat tricks is shown in the area in the second photo of this story near where you see the blue key chain hanging above the cup holder. Just to the right of that is where a taller driver’s knee would rest uncomfortably in some compact crossovers. Toyota’s dash though is open there. You can see that the dash is raised. The upshot is that drivers like me who are six-feet or taller, have ample room to sit comfortably.
For those not familiar with Toyota’s trim terminology, on its crossovers, XLE stand for “Most of what you want and the best bang for your buck.” The $28,967 XLE we tested had cloth seats, a steering wheel covered in what seems to be plastic (not leather), an old-school key to insert and turn in the ignition, and no heat for the front seats, which you adjust manually and in only three ways. It also has no forward crash prevention system (FCP). Are we spoiled by testing fancy cars? -Absolutely. However, the RAV4 XLE is a great car in search of just a few more features. A buyer cannot spend more to get an 8-way power driver’s seat or FCP. There is no box to check, or package to buy. Like it or leave it. If you leave it, you have two choices. You can opt to buy a RAV4 Limited, which will get you a seat you can be comfortable in, but there is no FCP for any price on the 2015 RAV4. The Outback and CR-V offer FCP, and they have a higher level of luxury than the RAV4 will offer. For 2016, this changes. The RAV4 will be one of the first of Toyota’s vehicles to get its new safety suite including FCP. It will be less expensive than rivals, and it will be standard on the RAV4 Limited. The 2016 RAV4 will go on sale in a few months (hint hint).
Toyota’s 2015 RAV4 XLE has a ride that is smooth over normal roads and acceptably soft on bumpy stretches. The standard 17-inch tires with ample side-wall on the tires helps. Having driven the RAV4 Limited and been surprised with its very firm ride, we are pleased to say the XLE is the better of the two.
Handling is good. The RAV4 feels lively and driving it is fun. It turns into corners well. Body lean is kept under control, and it goes where you point it. Brakes are pretty much perfect. The 2.5-liter engine is class competitive with 176 hp. Unlike most of its peers, the RAV4 is still using a geared transmission. If you still dislike continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), this is your salvation. If you have come to love the CVT, as I have, for its fuel efficiency advantages and smooth behavior, you will have to look elsewhere. The RAV4’s fuel economy is notably lower than the Outback’s and CR-V’s, and we blame the transmission. In AWD form, the RAV4 earns and EPA-estimated 25 combined and 29 highway. The Outback and CR-V both get 28 MPG combined and 33 highway. That is an enormous divide given that most shoppers list fuel economy as one of their top three buying criteria.
The styling of the RAV4 is a few years old now, but it still looks great. Its exterior has the right combination of tough and classy. Inside, Toyota uses fake carbon fiber trim instead of fake wood. Yeah! We are finally getting rid of trees as part of the inside of family cars. Is faux-carbon fiber the right choice for a low-powered baby-suv? It is a matter of taste. The dash does work. My XLE came with the Entune Premium Audio and Navigation package. The apps are simple to use, the sound is great, and the Nav is small but very simple. I would take this system over the Lexus mouse and touch-pad any day. I also liked the very easy to use climate control, and particularly liked that it is not part of the touch screen menus but has its own controls.
One area the 2015 RAV4 has improved is in a key crash test rating. The earlier RAV4 model years did not score “Good” on the important IIHS small frontal overlap test. The vehicle was modified, and the RAV4 now gets the highest possible scores on every crash test. The FCP is still missing, but as we pointed out above, it will arrive in just a few months at a price that make the competitors jealous.
The RAV4 is one of the top-selling crossovers in the US market for a reason. The prior generations have proven to be excellent vehicles long-term and Toyota’s quality, durability, and reliability is as strong today as it has ever been. Like all Toyota’s the first two years of maintenance are included. It is hard not to call the 2015 RAV4 one of the top three crossovers its size in the US market. In 2016, it may just be the one to beat.
2015 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD
- Entune Premium Audio and Nav ($585)
- VIP Plus Security System (359)
- Carpeted Cargo Area, Cargo Net and First Aid Kit ($304)
Price as tested: $28,967 Including Destination Charge
- Roomy Driver’s Space
- Spacious Rear Seating
- No Forward Collision Prevention until 2016 Model Year
- No Power Driver’s Seat Control Available On XLE